Rasselas is a fable-like story, more apologue than novel, written by Johnson in 1759 to help pay for the costs of his recently-deceased mother’s funeral. While the plot is basic and the characters are thin, the work is an important philosophical piece exploring whether or not humanity can attain happiness.
Rasselas, an Abyssinian prince, travels with his sister Nekayah, her handmaiden Pekuah, and the wise poet Imlac—a proxy for Johnson himself. Their exploration of happiness and the meaning of leading a happy life is a complex and subtle one, though the work ends with “nothing concluded.” Johnson leaves the reader to ponder: Can an individual ever attain happiness in any meaningful sense?
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